Yemen eye-witness: ‘Even if we survive the bombs we are running out of food’

Yemen eye-witness: ‘Even if we survive the bombs we are running out of food’

Oxfam has been working in Yemen for 30 years. Over 60 percent of the population – 16 million people – were already in need of some form of aid before the airstrikes started.

More than 10 million Yemenis did not have enough food to eat before the crisis. Already, over 13 million people had no access to clean water and nearly nine million people were unable to access basic medical care.

An Oxfam staff worker has written the below blog describing what life has been like in Yemen over the past week.

Yemen is a country of unpredictables. You never know what is going on. Sometimes – like now – that makes it both emotionally and psychologically exhausting.

Change started in Yemen in 2011, with the Arab Spring reaching the country. We all hoped that was the first step towards a better future. People were very enthusiastic back then – people were excited.

But in September 2014 the security situation deteriorated. The government changed without warning, the transition period seemed to stop. All of us – including the 16 million or so of my countrymen and women who are desperate need of aid – were once again living every day without knowing what would happen next. The 600,000 people that Oxfam were helping were going to need aid even more.

Homes destroyed in Yemen. Before the crisis over 13 million people had no access to clean water. Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

Then on March 25, the airstrikes began. At first, the streets were empty – it was like they had been abandoned. It was scary. But today, despite reports of the death toll rising, there are people in the streets because they have started to cope with life now. For me and my fellow Yemenis living in fear and never knowing what’s round the corner, this is ‘normal’.

But it should not be like this. For a long time there has been severe humanitarian crisis in the country, now there could be a humanitarian catastrophe unless a permanent ceasefire is agreed and humanitarian access is granted.

Even if we survive the bombs we are running out of food. My brother went to buy food yesterday; he said that several shops were out of flour. There was none in the markets close to where I live either. When you go out you see long queues of cars waiting for petrol at the gas stations. Yemen could suffer a real food and fuel crisis. More than 60% of the Yemeni people are already under the poverty line – Oxfam was trying to make the world wake up to the desperate situation that many people in Yemen face even before the latest fighting started. Now I fear for my family but we are much better off than many people who were already struggling to survive.

People search under rubble of houses destroyed in Yemen. Over 60% of population needed some form of aid before conflict Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

Yemen imports practically all of its food, petrol, everything! Now our borders are closed and there are no flights coming in or supply ships docking. We are now living with the tiny amount of what Yemen already has but this is running out fast.

What is going to happen? That’s the million dollar question. I am not sure. Nobody is sure. It is all rumours that we hear. I’m not expecting it to end soon. Even if the violence stopped, the massive humanitarian need is going to go on and on. At the moment humanitarian agencies such as Oxfam are trying to reach the areas where people are caught up in the fighting to give them the aid that they need.

But we need the access and security to go where these people are and in many places it is simply too dangerous at the moment. Where it is safe to do so, Oxfam is already assessing the impact of the conflict on people’s lives and the needs they have, so we can plan a quick response.

Homes destroyed in Yemen. Over 60% of the population already needed some form of aid before conflict. Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

I started working with Oxfam in Yemen in July 2014 as a programme manager focusing on women’s rights. Working with Oxfam made me continue to feel the positive sense of change and of the importance of the growing participation of women in life in Yemen.

Then a few months later, in September, the insecurity started. It was like Yemen hit the rewind button, and after the feeling of positive change that started in 2011 we went back to the uncertainty of before. I can remember that day when it all started. I was at work and my mother was with my younger brothers and sisters at home. My whole family all moved to my grandmother’s house. This was even closer to the fighting than our home – but at least we were together.

What makes me really sad is that this prolonged insecurity has become normal to me, my friends and family. People with guns and armoured vehicles in the street became normal to see every day before you go to school, to work, to the market, when of course it is not. Now we can add air strikes to that list.

Inside a house destroyed in Yemen. Before the crisis more than 10 million Yemenis did not have enough food to eat. Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

I am usually optimistic, but I’m not now. Even if the conflict ends soon the humanitarian situation will unfold. Then the shock and the extent of the suffering here in Yemen will become apparent. Only then we will know what this conflict has left behind.

  • Since 2011, Oxfam has provided assistance to nearly 600,000 people affected by the humanitarian crisis.
  • In Al Hodeidah and Hajjah in Western Yemen, Oxfam has given cash transfers to 400,000 people since 2011 to help them buy food and support their basic needs. Oxfam has been is working with 32 communities to help rebuild their livelihoods through cash for work schemes and scaling up social protection programmes.
  • Oxfam responded to the 2014 fuel crisis with the distribution of water filters to 3,300 vulnerable households and a cash transfer to an additional 1,000 households in western Yemen.
  • Since 2012 Oxfam has rehabilitated water systems in 41 rural communities in western Yemen, providing more than 125,000 vulnerable people with safe drinking water.
  • In the north in Sa’ada governorate, where years of conflict have destroyed infrastructure and created significant access constraints, Oxfam working on repairing and installing water sources, and has reached 58,000 people. We have also delivered vital water and sanitation services to communities in Aden and Abyan in the south.
  • Together with partners, Oxfam is working to empower women economically, socially, and politically to have a say in decision making at all levels.
  • Planning for the longer term, Oxfam is piloting three solar pump drinking water systems, reaching more than 20,000 beneficiaries in three communities.